No sooner had cyclocross become the darling of the spandex set than gravel racing emerged as another high intensity offshoot of bike racing. But whereas cyclocross is more like an off-road, obstacle-laden crit race, gravel races are the off-road, blue collar equivalent of gran fondos: they’re mostly in the Midwest, they’re largely unsupported, and racers pedal a mountain, cyclocross or (sometimes) a road bike. In the last few years, though, bike makers have introduced gravel-specific models that have the toughness of a mountain bike, the geometry of a road bike and the clearance for big tires.
Introduced in 2013, the Rove is based on Kona’s cyclocross bikes but with some changes for trails and gravel. Specifically, the chromoly frame has longer chainstays for stability, a larger front rotor for more braking power, an endurance-friendly handlebar and tubeless-compatible wheels. For a bit more scratch, this frame is also available in titanium. In short, it’s a great multi-use bike, ideal for a 200-mile grinder or a quick city commute.
Salsa Warbird Ti
Minnesota-based Salsa is no stranger to adventure races: their bikes are built for mountains, trails and even snow. The Warbird Ti is their top gravel bike, with a smash-proof titanium frame, a chatter-defeating carbon disc fork, ample tire clearance (though not as much as some other gravel bikes), powerful disc brakes and space to rack three water bottles.
Niner RLT 9
It’s all in the name with Niner, a company that until now has made mountain bikes with 29-inch wheels. The gravel-specific RLT (“road less traveled”) 9 breaks with tradition, but not by much: the RLT 9 has a geometry that’s somewhere between road and ‘cross, but it’s as tough as a mountain bike and has room for 29er wheels with beefy tires. Check out a complete review here.
Raleigh Tamland 2
The Tamland 2 is Raleigh’s second version of their gravel-specific bike (which they, too, suggest using on the “road less traveled”). Their gravel geometry has a lower bottom bracket than some other gravel bikes out there, which, combined with longer chainstays, is meant to create a more stable ride on bumpy roads. Combined with Clement’s 700×40 adventure tires, disc brakes and Ultegra components, the Tamland 2 is a formidable bike for long gravel rides.
Diamondback Haanjo Comp
The Haanjo Comp is an all-terrain workhorse, designed with a stability- and comfort-minded geometry (it’s a bit more upright and relaxed than a ‘cross bike), a stretched-out wheel base and wide bars. Combined with rack and fender mounts, it’s ideal for long, unsupported races or countryside tours. One important difference between the Haanjo Comp and other bikes on this list are the Haanjo’s brakes: TRP HYRD cable-actuated hydraulic discs, which are a hybrid of mechanical and hydraulic, keep the bike’s price down and offer powerful braking in wet or muddy conditions.